If you find it astonishing that Tim Pawlenty is out and Michele Bachmann is very much alive in the still-too-early presidential race, Ann Althouse has the explanation:
By the way, Bachmann was great on “Meet the Press” today. She is excellent at not letting the interviewer control her. She interrupts appropriately and stands her ground. She has planned, neat responses to the stuff that they will use to try to mess her up — like her statements about gay people — and she resists pressure to restate or elaborate those responses. She is ready for prime time.
I’ve noticied this, too. The experience that has served Bachmann well isn’t in governance, but in dealing with the media gatekeepers. Whatever you think about her politics, there is no disputing that she has become very good at dealing with the MSM. Throughout her career she’s never hesitated to show up in hostile media environments. She’s been on television with Chris Matthews dozens of times and she’s now at the point where she can’t be put off message.
In this way, she’s learned from the experiences of both ends of the 2008 Republican ticket. Throughout his career, John McCain was always available to chat up the news shows. Back in the ancient 1990s I would watch the old CNN “Crossfire” show when Michael Kinsley and Pat Buchanan were the hosts and you could count on McCain being on the show almost once a week. He usually fared well, because in the main he was sufficiently entertaining that he’d get invited back. What McCain never understood was that while the MSM was friendly to him, especially when he wore his “Maverick” mask, it wasn’t his friend. And when the coverage turned nasty, he seemed unable to respond to it.
Then there was the last GOP veep candidate. As we all learned in 2008, Sarah Palin didn’t do so well in her encounters with the MSM. She had bad encounters with both Charlie Gibson of ABC and Katie Couric of CBS, which became part of the narrative surrounding Palin and her capabilities. Whatever Palin’s personal popularity might be on the Right, those moments have made it difficult for her to get traction elsewhere.
Bachmann seems to have learned two things from the last cycle, and through her own experiences on the cable circuit:
- First, you can’t avoid going to the MSM. Palin has tried this stance and it hasn’t worked for her, because she’s only reaching the audience that already believes in her. Until and unless Sarah Palin can figure out how to deal with hostile questioning, she’ll never reach enough people to be a viable national candidate. Bachmann is willing to talk to anyone. But there’s one thing that you have to know, which is. . . .
- Just because you go to the MSM, you don’t have to accept the narrative they offer or the premises of their questions. This is the point Althouse makes. Bachman has become very adept at turning aside the leading questions and the underlying assumptions of the gatekeepers. This is what the GOP primary base wants to see, as they reject the premises of the MSM as well. But it also is important for audiences that aren’t used to seeing this sort of behavior. Staying on message is a bit of a cliche, but it’s really crucial if you’re going to be successful. Bachmann does not let her interlocutors get in her way.